Argentina does not have the military capability to invade the Falkland Islands, Gerald Howarth, a Defence Minister, has claimed.
By Robert Winnett, Political Editor
6:01PM GMT 26 Jan 2012
Mr Howarth said that Argentina was “sabre rattling” and that the country would not repeat the “folly” of its unsuccessful 1982 invasion.
The British government has recently scrutinised its plans to defend the Falklands amid concerns over increased tensions surrounding the 30th anniversary of the war. The Duke of Cambridge is due to be deployed to the islands in the spring.
On Thursday, senior Conservative MPs questioned Britain’s ability to defend the Falklands in the wake of recent cutbacks to the Royal Navy.
However, Mr Howarth said that ministers were “very seized” of the threat posed by Argentina and insisted that the British military deterrent was “up to the task”.
Addressing Edward Leigh, a senior Conservative MP, in Parliament, the defence minister said: “You raise concerns which are widespread around the country, particularly in light of the sabre-rattling by Argentina. But I think it is very important that you understand that ministers are very seized of this matter.
“All the advice we have is that there is neither the capability nor the intention by the Argentines to repeat the folly of 1982 and that the military deterrent that we have is up to the task.”
Earlier this month, David Cameron disclosed that the National Security Council had met to discuss plans to defend the Falkland Islands. He accused the Argentinians of behaving in a “colonialist” manner – comments which sparked a furious response in Buenos Aires.
Cristina Fernandez, the Argentine president, said: “I heard they’re calling us colonialist. … One is always tempted to respond, but I think it’s better to avoid it. When they say these things it’s exactly because they don’t have reasons or arguments.”
Argentina has called on Britain to negotiate the sovereignty of the remote South Atlantic archipelago it calls the Malvinas. Britain has maintained a military presence since liberating the islands in 1982.
It had been thought that there may be significant oil reserves in the area surrounding the Falklands but ministers also indicated yesterday that initial exploration had been disappointing.
Mr Howarth’s comments came as Mr Leigh criticised the Government’s cuts to the Royal Navy.
Mr Leigh said: “If there was to be a war with Iran or Argentina, we would not be fighting it in the Channel. We would be fighting it, in the case of Argentina, thousands of miles from any shore-based defence systems.”
He said a recent report by defence chiefs had found that Britain could not hold off even a small-sized invasion by the Argentinians. The Royal Navy had never been as weak since the mid-19th century, he claimed.
“We are now spending more on the winter fuel allowance than we are on the entire Foreign Office and there has to be some reordering of strategic defence capabilities because there is nothing more important than defence,” Mr Leigh said.
James Gray, another Conservative MP, said that it was now debatable that Britain could even claim it had an army following a recent infantry reduction.
He said: “It is arguable Great Britain will no longer have an Army – we will have a defence force. That is an absolutely disgraceful situation when faced by the uncertainty we are.
“The RAF is cut in half, the Royal Navy is emasculated; we do not have the capability in this country to do the things we have always done.”